HC Deb 11 March 1831 vol 3 cc345-66

On the Motion of Mr. Poulett Thomson the House went into a Committee on the Colonial Trade Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then said, that the circumstances connected with this measure had been so frequently detailed to the House, that it would be unnecessary for him to do more than shortly recall them to the recollection of hon. Members. In the year 1826, an Order in Council had issued, in consequence of the United States having refused to accede to the proposals made to them in 1822, and under the Reciprocity Acts in 1825, prohibiting all intercourse between the United States of America and our West-Indian Colonies. This prohibition continued until nearly the close of the last year. Different negotiations had subsequently been entered into, which led to the long; correspondence between Mr. Gallatin and the late Mr. Canning-, which was so well known to the House. They ended in an Order of Council, repeating the former Order of Council, and bringing into operation the Act of 1825; and the duties payable under that Act. He was glad that it would be unnecessary for him to enter into any examination of the policy which had produced the unnatural state of things that had lasted for so long a period; but he might observe, having carefully examined the conduct of the United States since 1817, that, in his opinion it would have been better even to have continued the prohibition than to have renewed it on the terms adopted in the last Order of Council. Passing by this, he had next to mention, that when the present Administration came into office they found a bill on this subject lying before the House. That Bill had been called for by the consequences which had resulted from the prohibitory Order in Council, and particularly from the necessity of protecting those interests in our own North American colonies which had grown up in consequence of the prohibition. Upon coming into office, the Administration also found the despatches which had been sent to our colonies, informing the colonists of the nature of the bill which had been introduced; and almost the first documents which met his eyes when he came to the Board of Trade, were protests against the bill from the American Minister, from the West-Indian colonies, and also from the North American colonies. He could not hope, any more than his predecessor, to content all these parties, but he had reason, to believe from communicating with them, that the alterations he had introduced into the schedules rendered the Bill more acceptable to them all, than it was as proposed by the late Government. The principle of the late Government was, to raise many of the Duties on goods imported direct from the United States, and make them permanent, giving at the same time a portion of relief by removing the duty altogether from some articles. The object of the present Government had been, to give temporary protection by, higher duties on the produce of the United States, and provide means gradually to revert to the scale of 1825 for all articles on which the duty was not now to be lower than it was then. The schedule of the measure which the present Ministers had proposed in lieu of that which their predecessors had left behind them, had been some time before the House, and the Committee, therefore, would be aware of the difference between the measure now under consideration, and that which had been proposed by the late Government. It remained for him, then, merely to state shortly the grounds of that difference, and the extent to which it went. The first article he would mention was flour, the duty oh which he proposed to leave as it stood in 1825, at 5s. per barrel, instead of 6s. By taking off altogether the duty from Canadian flour, that would give a protection to the produce of our own colonies and our own shipping, amounting to 25s. per ton, which he considered quite sufficient, and affording great advantages to our shipping, by securing for them the freight of all the American flour that came down the river St. Lawrence. As no wheat went from Canada, he proposed to remove wholly the duty on that article. The duty on shingles which by a bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herries) was 10s. 6d. and 21s., he proposed to reduce, as in 1825, to 7s. and 14s. The best shingles were made from Cypress wood, which grew almost wholly in the south, and as they were much used, he saw no reason for procuring the use of an inferior article by a high rate of duty. On staves he proposed to levy a duty of 25s. for three years; the right hon. Gentleman having proposed 18s. 9d.; at the end of that time to lower the dnty to 21s., and finally to reduce it to 13s. 9d. the rate fixed in the year 1825. He thought that at present 18s. 9d. was not in proportion to the protection afforded to other articles. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to levy a duty of 31s. permanently on yellow and white pine timber; by the present schedule he proposed a duty of 28s. for three years, then a duty of 25s., and finally a duty of 21s., the Sum proposed in 1825. Pitch pine not being exclusively the growth of the northern colonies, he proposed to place on it at once the duty of 1825, of 21s. The duty on wood-hoops he proposed should be 5s. 3d. At present a direct import of beef and pork was permitted from the United States, on the payment of a duty of 12s. the barrel, and live stock was imported duty free. To secure the advantage of this trade to our own colonies, he proposed to remove the duty on beef and pork when imported from them, and allow those articles to be imported duty free. These alterations would, he believed, relieve the West Indies to the extent of 20,000l. a year, and would afford a greater degree of protection to our North American colonies than the bill of the right hon. Gentleman. To satisfy all the conflicting interests that were concerned in the measure was impossible, but he was able to say, that all the parties were better pleased with his scheme than with that of the right hon. Gentleman. A great advantage would accrue from the arrangement of allowing salted provisions to be imported free of duty, that of getting rid of all the Custom Houses on the St. Lawrence, and opening that outlet to the productions of the States of Maine and of Ohio. In voting for the amendments he proposed, the Committee would only sanction the schedule, and for the duties which were to be increased, he should have afterwards to move Resolutions in a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Herries

objected to the Course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had pursued. The forms of the House would require that they should go into a Committee upon the schedule. It would be more necessary that the forms of the House should not be departed from, because he would venture to say, that no one who had listened to the right hon. Gentleman could understand either the nature of the proposed alterations, or the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman intended to carry them into effect. He should therefore recommend that they should go into Committee upon the details of the schedule, and that when those details were settled, the right hon. Gentleman should ask for leave to bring-in a bill to carry them into effect. The Bill with the alterations, would then be printed and brought fairly before the public; all the details would be fairly discussed and clearly understood, which would not be the case if the right hon. Gentleman were allowed to pursue the course he had commenced. If this advice of his were taken, he should feel it the less necessary to state his objections in detail now, and he should be glad to be relieved from this task, for if he were to enter upon it now, he was sure that he should be as little understood as the right hon. Gentleman had been. The real point for the consideration of the Committee was, whether the principle of the bill which he had introduced in November last, and which had been lying on the Table for consideration ever since, should or should not be adopted. It was highly satisfactory to him to find that the present Government had abjured the principles on which they had opposed that bill of his, and that they had adopted the principle of his bill. Whatever deficiency of support the Government might experience from those who had lately supported their other measures, he could assure them that they would find none on this Bill from those who were opposed to them in other respects. The principal alterations in the right hon. Gentleman's schedule were those in the duties upon flour, and staves, and boards. He was very well aware that staves had been placed too low in the schedules of Mr. Robinson in 1822, and of Mr. Huskisson in 1825. Flour and staves were inseparably connected, since a cargo could not be made up without both. He concurred in the propriety of giving a fuller protection to staves; but the connexion between staves and flour being as he had stated it to be, he was not prepared to concur in the proposed alteration in the duty on flour. He was happy to see that the Government was disposed to act on the principle of allowing the produce of the United States to be, imported into the West Indies from our North American colonies at a lower rate of duty, in some instances without paying any duty whatever, than when imported direct from the United States. It might, be said that that was not fair to the United States, but he for one must protest against the United States, or any other State, dictating the terms on which we chose to regulate the intercourse between our own colonies. He was aware that in addressing his Majesty's Ministers he was addressing Gentlemen among whom there was considerable difference of opinion on this subject, unless some of them had greatly altered the opinions which they had formerly expressed. For instance, his right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Control had read him a long lecture in no very friendly terms of reproof, and had even spoke of his measure in a tone bordering upon indignation. The principle of his measure had, nevertheless, been adopted by the present Government, and he was very glad to find that some of the members of the Government had changed their opinion with regard to it, for he was sure that that principle was a sound and a safe one. He trusted his light hon. friend would on that occasion either retract some of the animadversions his right hon. friend had formerly made on his measure, or manfully oppose it, and shew that merely becoming a member of the Government had not made him change his opinion. He expected that his right hon. friend should do one or the other, or he would certainly depart from his usual candour and fair-dealing. It was a principle which was not consistent with What Were called political economical doctrines, but it was consistent with a much higher doctrine, that of justice, and of giving to our colonies that protection which they had a right to demand at our hands. The schedule of 1825 had got a fair trial. In consequence of the withdrawal of protection, the tonnage between the Canadas and the West Indies in the three years, from 1822 to 1825, had declined from 76,000 tons to 36,000 tons. He complained of the tortuous course of policy which had been adopted by the United States throughout the whole of these transactions and he instanced the tonnage duty which had been placed by them on British vessels as one exemplification of that policy of which the tariff was the completion. The protecting system which had been adopted towards our North American colonies subsequent to the year 1826, had raised the tonnage employed by them in the West-India trade from 36,000 to 100,000 tons. He would ask, should we return to that system which had in three years depressed that tonnage to 36,000 tons? Ought they then suddenly to lay the colonists open to the unlimited competition of the United States? He thought that none but the purest theorists, the most hard-hearted political economists, would call upon them to return to such a system as that. He congratulated his Majesty's Ministers, who, when out of office, had been partly converts to the doctrines of such persons upon not carrying such doctrines into practice when in power. He would not detain the House by entering into the details of this measure now, as he should have another opportunity of discussing the matter on a future day. The Bill, as it stood substantially at present, should have his support; and it was with extreme satisfaction he found, that after so long differing from the right hon. Gentleman, that right hon. Gentleman had come back to the principles of this Bill.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that he would take the earliest opportunity to move the alterations in the duties which he had stated to the House. He could not avoid remarking, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had been himself a party to the taking off that protection from the colonies with respect to which he had made complaints against the present Government, for the right hon. Gentleman was a party to the repeal of the Orders in Council by the late Administration. This Bill was intended to benefit the West Indies ultimately by sacrificing something at present. He defended the consistency of the present Government in the course which it had pursued on this occasion. To the principle of affording a certain degree of protection to our colonies, he, (Mr. P. Thomson) was ready to give his entire assent; but they should always take care not to carry that principle too far, and not to afford protection beyond that amount which would be consistent with the interests of the empire generally. The right hon. Gentleman charged his right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Control, with inconsistency. He certainly could see no inconsistency in the conduct of his right hon. friend, and should certainly have voted, with him had he been present in the House on that occasion. The division took place on a proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to lay a duty of 1s. 2d.. on wheat, and that duty was actually expunged from the schedule. What his right hon. friend opposed and what he should always oppose, was giving such a degree of protection to one interest as was injurious to the whole of the empire.

Mr. George Robinson

contended, that the course of policy which had been adopted, both by the late and by the present Government, towards our colonies, had been a most impolitic one. That policy was said to be in accordance with the principles of the late Mr. Huskisson; but he was quite sure that that lamented statesman would not in 1830 (for the re- peal of the Orders in Council took place last October) have given his assent to a measure for allowing a direct intercourse with the West Indies to the United States, if at the same time the United States had passed a tariff virtually prohibiting the introduction of British manufactures into that part of America. If nothing had occurred, indeed since 1825, he should not be disposed to complain, but since then the Congress of the United States, had adopted a system of commercial policy, that was directed in a hostile spirit against the trade of Great Britain. His right hon. friend, and other right hon. Gentlemen, seemed to think that their policy would meet the approbation of Mr. Huskisson, were he alive. It was impossible to know, that, but he would take the liberty of reading a short extract from a speech delivered by that statesman in 1828, on his moving for the production of the American Tariff. Mr. Huskisson then said, "whilst iron, cotton, and hardware were rendered liable to duties which almost amounted to a prohibition, being the staples of this country; the production of other countries were, in the same proportion, lowered, evidently shewing an intention to wound and injure, if not altogether ruin, the extensive trade carried on by this country in articles of its own manufacture."* "A man must be blind to the interests of this country who should consent to deprive Government of the means of promptly meeting the effects of such restrictive measures by corresponding regulations.†" "Unless we asserted our dignity and protected our interests what would be thought of our apathy by the people of the Brazils, who received all our goods on the payment of only fifteen per cent."! Mr. Huskisson then commented on the importance of the carrying trade; and speaking of the offer, in 1825, to open a direct trade between America and the West Indies, which America had refused to accept, he added, "For one long year this country submitted patiently, I had almost said too patiently, to the regulation without adopting any retaliating measures. At the end of that period his Majesty was advised to issue an Order in Council, prohibiting the intercourse between America and our West-India possessions. The intercourse was interdicted and then came America with a tardy proposal accepting the terms which * Hansard, New Series, vol. xix. p. 1770. Ibid.Ibid. p.1771. up to the moment of the prohibition, this country had offered to her in vain. The advice for issuing that order was given with reluctance, but if they must be driven to measures unfriendly to commercial intercourse, it became them to persist in such measures with firmness."* In that there was no evidence to suppose that Mr. Huskisson would have patronized the present policy. On the same occasion, the right hon. Baronet, then Secretary of State for the Home Department, said" that he was not prepared to go the length of admitting that even the perseverance of America should not drive us to the adoption of measures of retaliation. It was with no unfriendly voice, that he would say that the policy on which America was now acting was founded in error, and that before long, she would be convinced that she had mistaken her own interest."‡ At that time the right hon. the President of the Board of Control, concurred with the right hon. the Secretary of State and Mr. Huskisson, and there were therefore, the highest authorities against making the concessions which we had made to the Government of the United States. He would ask, why did the Government of this country give to the United States the boon of a direct commercial intercourse with the West Indies, without stipulating, at the same time, that they should allow the introduction of British manufactures into the United States? We gave every thing to them, and they would give nothing to us. He would have said, until you return to the Tariff of 1824, we will not even entertain the question of opening the West-India trade to your shipping. He did not know whether Members had read the correspondence between Mr. M'Lane and Lord Aberdeen, but he had; and he thought it afforded an excellent illustration of American skill and British credulity. Mr. M'Lane began by professing great cordiality, and in stating some general principles in which he cordially agreed. "It should be, he said, the desire, as it is the interest of both countries, to extinguish their causes of mutual bitterness, to correct the errors which may have interrupted the harmony of their past intercourse, to discard from their commercial regulations measures of hostile monopoly, and to adopt instead a system of frank *Ibid. p. 1774. †Ibid p. 1776., and amicable competition." Unfortunately the acts of the American government did not correspond to Mr. M'Lane's language, and while he professed nothing but liberality, it continued those measures of exclusion and hostility that were intended to ruin our trade; and while its conduct remained the same he could not understand the policy of our taking a single step for the advantage of America. The late Government, however, adopted the views of Mr. M'Lane, and opened the trade to the West Indies, giving up, in fact, to America a part of our own coasting trade. The present Government went further and proposed to take away the protection which our own colonies enjoyed for their timber in order to allow the Prussians and the Norwegians to bring their timber in their own ships into our market. Between both these Governments he saw no succour for the colonies but what God might vouchsafe. To shew what the late Government at one time thought of the trade between the West-Indies and America, he would beg leave to quote a passage from an answer written by Lord Aberdeen in August 17th, 1830, to Mr. M'Lane. His Lordship then said, "It is most essential that his Majesty's Government should not contract, by implication, any engagement towards that of the United States, with respect to alteration of duties, because his Majesty's Government have already had under their consideration the expediency of introducing some modifications into the schedule of duties attached to the Act of 1825, with a view more effectually to support the interest of our North American colonies. To those interests, fostered as they have been by the suspension of the intercourse between the United States and the West Indies, his Majesty's Government will continue to look, with an earnest desire to afford them such protection, by discriminatory duties, as may appear to be consistent with the interests of other parts of his Majesty's dominions." After this, he contended that the present proposed regulations gave the inhabitants of our North American colonies a right to complain. After the correspondence which had taken place between Lord Aberdeen and Mr. Galatin, after the language that had been used by Mr. Huskisson, after the continual protestations of our Government, he must say, that the present measure was dealing very narrowly with the colonies. If the trade were thrown open at all, the measure ought to be at least prospective. If the West-India interests took this as a boon, in lieu of a reduction of duties upon sugars, they would find themselves very much mistaken. The West-India islands could be as well supplied by our American colonies as by the United States, but this act would take away employment for 150,000 tons of British shipping, and give it to American vessels. The calculation was, that the West-India islands would save by these regulations an expenditure to the extent of 50,000l. to the utmost; but the loss sustained by the British shipping interests would be very great. It was clearly shown by returns on the Table, that when the United States were excluded from the trade, the shipping of our own North American colonies increased very rapidly. We were, therefore, by every such measure as that under discussion, increasing the maritime strength of that Power, and decreasing our own. He knew that the right Vice-president of the Board of Trade hon. might call such language inflammatory, but he thought it was justified by the conduct of the Government of the United States. The President in his last message said, "The arrangement secures to the United States every advantage asked by them, and which the state of the negotiation allowed us to insist upon. The trade will be placed on a footing decidedly more favourable to the country than any on which it ever stood." This, it should be remembered, was said in relation to the negotiation in which the President thought he had obtained a triumph over Great Britain. He congratulated the United States on the success and added, "that the prosperity of this country, so far as it depends on this trade, will be greatly promoted by the new arrangement, there can be no doubt. Independently of the obvious advantages of an open and direct intercourse, its establishment, will be attended with other consequences of a higher order." That shewed the estimation in which the Government of the United States held the advantages which we had so unwisely conceded. But the important part of the quotation was those "consequences of a higher order," mentioned by the President which could mean nothing, he' believed, but the increase of the American navy, which would be the infallible consequence of our bestowing on the United States a large part of our own trade, and of employment for our own shipping. He was confirmed in this opinion, by the President immediately afterwards recommending the navy to the care of the congress, adding, "that in a few years the Government would be prepared to send to sea on any emergency a powerful fleet of new ships." We had been so long accustomed to the supremacy of the seas, that we were beginning to think that we could keep it against the struggles of all other nations, and without any exertion on our own part; but he thought that a very little examination of the progress of the Americans ought to be sufficient to show that we were called on to make the greatest efforts to be able to compete with them. It should be recollected, that when we were struggling for the liberties of Europe, America threw herself into the scale against us. He was justified, therefore, in supposing that in contributing to foster the naval power of America, we were strengthening a nation that would again be hostile to us, and he owned that he was not without apprehension, in case of another war occurring in Europe, that the American government would declare against this country. He was afraid, that in touching on those topics, he was laying himself open to a charge of il-liberality; but he could with confidence state, that the had the highest admiration for the Americans and their Government. They were every day showing the soundness of their measures and policy; and it was because he feared that we should one day be brought into collision with their power and strength, that he gave those cautions to his Majesty's Ministers. He trusted that he had succeeded in showing that we had employed a very different policy towards America to that which she had pursued towards us. Never had the Americans, in any one instance, yielded a single point to us, but had always shown themselves most pertinacious in advancing their own interests. He would, therefore, speak out boldly at once to America, for she could not pursue a more hostile course than that which she was now pursuing. He objected also to the present measure, that it did not fix the duties at once, but left them open for further change and further discussion, in the years 1834 and 1836. The whole course of our commer- cial policy was full of changes. We raised up great interests, and then struck them down, spreading ruin amongst thousands of those who trusted in the Government. The American government acted differently. It thought the manufactures and commerce of America could not flourish without protection, and while we only levied a duty of 18 or 20 per cent on their goods, they levied a duty of 80 or 100 per cent on our produce. The conduct of that government, as to the Sugar duties, shewed by what spirit it was animated. It was proposed to Congress this year to lower the duties on all foreign sugars, which would have benefited the British West Indies; but the anti-English party was so strong, that this proposition was rejected, and the duty on sugar, imported from our colonies, was still 80 per cent. They shut out West-India sugar and rum to protect their own planters and distillers, and we gave them the benefit of a direct trade with our colonies, by which they would enjoy all the advantage of the freight on the cumbrous articles we allowed them to supply us with. In their trade with the West-India islands they would take nothing but specie in return for their produce, and they had always shown a most unconceding disposition in all their negotiations, as was witnessed in their treaty with France, in claiming their losses, —in their demands upon England for the compensation for their slaves carried away from the southern States, — and, lastly, in their pending negotiations respecting the north-western boundary line, by a shifting of which they expect to obtain such great advantages. It was impossible for the Americans to., have shown a more hostile spirit than they had done towards this country, notwithstanding that the English took from them annually to the amount of 33,000,000 of dollars' worth of raw produce. They had done every thing-short of prohibiting the export of their own commodities, and that, the government could not do. The United States could not refuse their raw cottons to this country, for the very existence of the Southern States depended on our taking them. Hitherto, he must repeat in conclusion, we had been going on a wrong system, for we should never have conceded a single point to America without an equivalent. But though this had been our course, he could see no reason why we should not alter it—late as it was in the day. The American ship- ping already amounted to 1,640,000 tons, while the English was but 2,000,000 tons; and if the present course were persisted in for five years, he had no doubt that by that time the amount of American shipping would be equal to ours.

Mr. C. Grant

thought, that the wisest thing we could do was, to bury in oblivion any hostile feelings that might exist towards America; and he must say, that the President of the United States appeared to him to have acted in the most candid and frank manner. He thought that the late Government had been perfectly justified in opening the trade between America and the Colonies; and he thought that the documents which passed on both sides were highly creditable; and he could not but think, that what had then taken place might be the means of removing any unpleasantness of feeling between the two countries, and draw them together in a closer bond than they had been for the last twenty years. With reference to his opinions in 1828, he must positively assert, that he never had wished that the intercourse with America should not be renewed, and if any record of parliamentary proceedings attributed that to him, it was erroneous. He thought that, renewing their connection with America, they ought to return as speedily as possible to the rate of duties laid down in 1825; and therefore he could not agree with his right hon. friend (Mr. Herries) that the two bills, that of the present Government, and that of the last, were substantially the same; for in very many cases his right hon. friend had proposed a considerable increase on that scale. He (Mr. C. Grant) did not intend to say, that the scale of 1825 was to be the minimum; but he thought, that at all events they ought to come down to that scale as speedily as possible; because, if they did not, they would be making a step, not in advance, but in retrogression.

Mr. Keith Douglas

was glad to hear that the Bill was intended to promote the intercourse between our West-India islands and our North American colonies; but he observed at the same time, that this was to be effected at the expense of those islands. He was aware, however, that they had no alternative but submission; but that being their condition, it was the duty of the mother country to see justice done to all. That the West-India islands found a market for their produce in the North American colonies, was, he admitted, an advantage, though he doubted if that compensated the increased prices they would, in consequence of this Bill, have to pay on many necessary articles. For his part, he did not wish to sever the interests of our colonies, and should be happy to see them all united, and their prosperity promoted by the Crown. It was said, that this measure was in principle like the measure that was proposed by the last Administration, but he thought it differed very materially, and in some respects objectionably. It pretended to give protection to the manufacture of staves, but that was to be limited to a short period; and at the same time that this Bill was to protect the Canadian trade, the measure of the noble Lord relative to the Timber Duties would have the effect of displacing 200,000 tons of shipping, in order to place 700,000l. in the Exchequer. That was inflicting distress on the shipowners. In fact, the Government never took into consideration the interests its own measures had raised up, and which it too lightly abandoned. Under all the circumstances of the case, he hoped that the West-India colonies would, in due time, be deemed proper objects for the calm consideration of the House.

Mr. Courtenay

did not feel inclined to follow the hon. member for Worcester into all his discussions concerning the Order in Council; he only wished to observe, that the hon. Member was in error when he said, that Mr. Huskisson declared that he would never consent to rescind that Order. When Mr. Huskisson was applied to in 1827, he stated that he would not hamper the Government by any such declaration, or impede it in any measure which it might suppose to be necessary to propose to Parliament; but he then said, that he saw no immediate chance of its being rescinded. There was a contradiction between the assertion of his right hon. friend the President of the Board of Control, that this Bill was not like that proposed by the late Administration, and the statement of the Vice-president of the Board of Trade, that it was in principle exactly the same. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, stated, that the bill proposed by the late Administration was to be permanent, while this Bill was to be temporary; but he had himself stated last November, that the bill then proposed was not to be permanent, and that it was founded on the necessity of giving temporary protection to interests which had been raised up by Acts of Parliament.

Sir Henry Parnell

observed, that whatever might be said of others, he still maintained the same principles as in last November. His right hon. friend, the Vice-president of the Board of Trade, had stated, that this was a measure of protection for a particular branch of trade, and, it was therefore, a recurrence to the principles which had been abandoned by Parliament in 1825. Mr. Huskisson then stated, that those principles ought not to be retained any longer than could be helped, and he was sorry that he was obliged to keep up any principles of protection. This was the first Bill, since 1825, which had recurred to those principles of protection that were then abandoned. He was sorry to refer to principles of free trade, particularly because those who took an opportunity of censuring such principles were apt to be cheered by the House. That was partly occasioned, probably, by the details of such subjects not being understood by hon. Members. Had he spoken on the Reform Question, he should have supported it on the ground that the measure proposed would introduce into the House a greater proportion of men than at present who understood such questions, and would attend to them. Hon. Members who spoke against the principles of free trade, and said, that those who supported them overlooked the principles of justice, were, in his opinion, sporting a parliamentary fallacy. While they condemned political economists as visionary and hard-hearted, they were themselves the veriest theorists possible; and to accommodate their theories to their interests or their wishes, they even reasoned falsely from the false premises they assumed. It was said by these Gentlemen, that the interests of the North American colonies must be supported; but, in doing that, the Legislature injured the interests of the public. The protection given in the first instance to the North American colonies came out of the pockets of the West-India planters; but the West-India planters remunerated themselves by raising the price of sugar to the English public. Thus the consumers—the English consumers—were injured by that protection which it was proposed to give to the colonies. For that the British public were taxed. In fact, the whole subject was taken up under very narrow views. It was well established by the evidence given before the Finance Committee, that in no branch of the public service could such savings be made as in the government of the colonies. It was stated by the noble Lord (the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) and the Secretary at War, that if the government of the colonies were placed more in the hands of the colonists, the expense of an army for the protection of them might be saved. He contended, therefore, that those who looked at such questions only as far as they affected the colonial interests took a very narrow view of them. He regretted this measure and all similar measures, because they afforded a justification to the Americans to enforce their Tariff against us. Already these restrictive laws had done our manufacturers a great deal of mischief, and he could not but apprehend that more mischief of the same kind would be done by laying restrictions on the trade of the United States with the colonies. On the whole, therefore, he was decidedly adverse to the present measure, which he considered to be most impolitic as well as most important.

Mr. Stuart Worthy

admitted, that it was very improper, as a general principle, to foster any interests by laws, because the day would surely come when the protection must be withdrawn, and then the difficulty of withdrawing it, and the mischief done, was in proportion to the degree of protection which had been afforded. At the same time, the present question was, how they might best protect interests that Had been called into existence by the laws; and he did not agree with those who thought that the Legislature ought to act without any regard to those interests. If, as the hon. member for Worcester stated, the United States could not supply the West Indies cheaper than our own North American colonies, it was clear that they would not be injured by the change. He certainly was one who viewed with alarm the sudden application of the principles of political economy to our colonies; but he could not suppose that those principles, as far as they were correct should never be applied. The whole question appeared to him one of transfer and navigation, rather than of protection; but he was glad the measure had been discussed, as that might lead in time to getting rid of the protection without inflicting injury.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

reminded the House, that the Representative of the West-India interest, and the Representative of the North-American colonies, had both declared that this measure would not be of service either to the West- India or the ' North-American colonies. The Bill appeared to him calculated only to benefit the third party, namely, the people of the United States. The House should, however, recollect what the right hon. member for Harwich had said of the increase and decrease of the trade between our North-American colonies and the West Indies. Perhaps the House was not aware, that at present, the trade between those colonies and the mother country was equal to half the foreign trade of the United States, and the trade between England and her colonies had increased by one-half since 1816. In his view this made that trade of considerable importance, and he could not agree to any measure which might injure it. The exports during the last year to our American colonies, amounted to 2,000,000l., while those to the Northern States of Europe, did not exceed 600,000l. He must, therefore, deny the utility of disturbing a trade which was so advantageous to this country. While he was on this subject, he would take leave to ask the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) what was the course the Government intended to pursue with respect to the new Timber Duties. This was the season of the year when the persons engaged in the timber trade chartered vessels to bring home cargoes, and it was of extreme importance to a large body of his constituents that the noble Lord should state distinctly, if he intended to persevere in that scale of duties he had announced.

Mr. Bernal

could not let the discussion terminate without declaring, plainly and openly, that the West-Indians would derive little or no alleviation from their sufferings from this Bill, and that they did not look on any of its provisions as a boon granted to them. It was, in truth, the same Bill which the late Government proposed, with some little difference as to the time when all its provisions were to come into operation. The repeal of the Non-intercourse Act would leave the situation of the West Indies, with respect to the supply of lumber, just the same as before. The planters of the colonies could receive lumber, notwithstanding all prohibitions, through the medium of a neutral port. He had himself received lumber at all times, imported into the island of St. Thomas, and from that direct to the British West Indies, which he had been compelled to pay for in hard dollars. The Government might learn from this, how futile it was, to restrain the intercourse between nations, and that no Act of Parliament could have the power to defeat that which the people found necessary to their interest. As to the present Bill, he could only say, that the duties were apparently lessened, but really increased by the operation of its provisions. And so far, therefore, as the benefits of the West-Indians were concerned, he must say, it was mere moonshine. He did not mean to deny, that there was some benefit received from the intercourse between Canada and the West-Indies; for he believed that nearly one-half of the rum, and sugar, and molasses, exported to North America, was consumed by the Canadians. The duties, however, were much too high. Sugar paid, he believed, a duty of half-a-crown a hundred weight; molasses, nine pence; and rum, one shilling a gallon. He knew that the produce of these duties was necessary to enable the Canadas to pay their own expenses; but he thought, that a reduction of these duties should take place as speedily as possible. He concluded by protesting against the use of any language, with respect to the United States, which could in any degree affect the bonds of amity that ought to prevail between great commercial countries.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the 70,000l. derived from these protecting duties, was just so much taken from the West-Indians; who paying so much more than they should do for their lumber, were compelled either to suffer the loss themselves, or attempt to charge it on the consumers of their produce. He wished much to know whether the wheat which the Canadians were allowed to import from the United States, was intended to be warehoused for the use of the West Indies; because, as he looked on the Canadas to be the great agricultural colony from which England would soon take her corn and flour, it was necessary to know how this wheat was for the present to be disposed of. As to the duties laid on lumber by the Bill, he saw that many of them amounted to 100 per cent, and he thought they were much too high.

Lord Althorp

would first answer the question of the worthy Alderman (Thompson), by stating at once that the Government did intend to persevere with the propositions respecting the Timber Duties, and that he would bring them under the attention of the House on that day fortnight. With respect to the measure now before them, he cordially agreed with the principles laid down by the right hon. Baronet (Sir H. Parnell), but he must deny that the Government were retrograding in the provisions of this Bill. It was founded on the scale agreed to by the House in 1825; and the only alteration of importance made by the present Government, was, to let in some articles free of duty which were at that time saddled with too high a duty for the interests of the trade of the colonies. He admitted that the Bill did not go so far as might have been desirable with the reduction of duties, but. the Government had made a provision that they should expire gradually, because that would be less injurious to the existing interests, which had grown up under the present laws, than an immediate and total repeal. In consequence of the Non-intercourse Act, capital had been employed to some extent in certain channels, from which it could not be immediately removed without great loss, and it was to avoid this evil that the reduction was made gradual. The hon. member for Worcester (Mr. Robinson) had complained that the colonies would be sufferers by these arrangements, but when the interests of the whole empire were concerned, a particular class could not complain that those interests were not sacrificed for their particular advantage. He regretted much, and deeply, that the Government could not afford to take off the Sugar Duties; but what it had done was intended for the advantage of the colonies, and he believed it would prove so. The noble Lord concluded by declaring, that he thoroughly approved of the principle which had regulated the policy of the country on the subject of prohibiting duties for some time past, and that the departure from them in the present Bill was only for a season.

Mr. Hume

protested against the use of the words perpetual protection by the Vice-president of the Board of Trade, as being contrary to the principles which had now for years regulated the policy of the country. He regretted much to find that the mischief was not confined to words, and that several of the duties proposed to be levied under the Bill were a return to that system of prohibition which the House had formally declared its intention to abandon. He believed that no alteration could be made in duties in a Committee, but when the proper time came, he should propose, as an Amendment, to return to the system of 1825. The West-Indians had suffered much from the conduct of the Government, but he feared much that retracing its course would not relieve them. This measure, although good, would not bring back to the West-Indies that great trade in coffee, rum, and sugar, which they once possessed in supplying the United States. Vast quantities of rum, molasses, and sugar, were formerly imported from the West Indies into America, but the people of the United States now distilled their own rum, and imported sugar from South America and Cuba. He did not quite agree with the hon. member for Rochester in all he said, because, if the West-India planters went to St. Thomas's for their lumber, they in this way increased its price from 10 to 16 per cent, without bestowing the least benefit on any interest connected with this country. The right hon. Gentleman below him had spoken with severity of the doctrines of political economy, but he should say, that those doctrines were quite as good as any propounded by that right hon. Gentleman. Ignorance of the mischief which might be occasioned by the measures introduced in the way of meditated improvement, was one of the greatest possible evils in these respects, inasmuch as the influence of Government too frequently gave weight to those suggestions, which finally could not bear the test of trial and practical application.

Mr. P. Thomson

contended, that the course which Government had thought fit in this instance to pursue, was not a departure from its avowed principles. It should be recollected that our colonies stood in a different position, as respected the mother country, from the colonies of other countries.

Mr. Herries

expressed himself disposed to leave the defence of the measures which were pursued in this respect by the Government of which he formed a part, in the hands of his successors.

Mr. Callaghan

believed, that in the present artificial state of the country, it was absolutely necessary that a restrictive policy should be adopted with respect to our colonies. The interests of Ireland, with respect to the provision trade, more particularly required that a preference should be given to its exports over those of North America, in respect to beef, pork, and butter.

Mr. Irving

stated, that the reason why the West Indies ceased to export sugar to the United States was, that sugar was so extensively cultivated in New Orleans and Louisiana, that the United States had made themselves quite independent of our colonies. We might open the trade of those islands to the Americans, but they would assuredly take nothing from them except money. On the contrary, the Canadas took a great quantity of the West-India produce, and everything possible ought to be done to foster and encourage that trade.

Mr. O'Connell

contended, that the Irish provision merchant could not at present afford to lose the protection, which he had till now enjoyed in the colonial market, from the rivalry of American imports of the same description as his. According to the Bill then before them, the Americans would supply our colonies duty free by sending their provisions to Canada.

Mr. P. Thomson

—It was not intended to alter the existing duty of 12s. per ewt. on direct imports from the United States. That would still remain as a protection for Irish produce.

Mr. Hume

observed, that if the hon. and learned member for Waterford complained that the removal of the protecting duty was a hardship to Ireland, he ought to remember that there was another party to the transaction—namely, the colonists, who could not fail to think themselves ill-used if the restrictive system were continued.

Schedule passed pro formà, and the House resumed.

Back to